Are people not reading your emails?
In this article, I’m going to tell you why and what you can do about it.
I’m going to teach you how to write emails like a CEO. Emails that people read and engage with.
Now, the first thing that people tell me whenever I start a conversation about emails is, “You know what you gotta do? You gotta get really short. People just hate it when you send long emails.”
This isn’t true. It is not the length of your email that’s the problem.
Let’s look at Netflix to illustrate this. It’s a Tuesday night. You got some time off. You’re looking for something to consume. So you open up Netflix and you start scrolling through. What is it that you’re thinking of as you’re looking for a show or a movie to spend some time watching that night?
Are you thinking, “No, that one’s too long. No, that one’s too long.” Unless you’ve got something going on later in the evening, that’s not the thought. What’s the thought? You go through and think, “Oh, that one looks interesting. I might like that one.” You start it, get two minutes in. Then you decide this one sucks. So you exit out. All right, what happened there?
The first thing we need to acknowledge is that length is a filter only if you have something else going on. Same thing’s true of emails. If you send out a 2,000 word email and your email subscribers have something to do in the next 30 minutes, yeah, they might skip because of how long it is.
But in my experience, they’re not just going to automatically archive it. There’s something else that’s going to cause them to archive or to delete that email. And the length of it is just going to determine whether they’re going to read it right now. Just like with Netflix.
If I’ve got something going on in an hour, I’m not going to start a three hour movie. And if I do I’ll just know that I’m going to finish this later. That’s the only time that the length comes into play.
Why people don’t read your emails
What’s really happening here is I’m picking based on if it looks interesting. And then I leave if it’s boring. That’s what’s happening with your emails.
Somebody opens up the first email you send them and they’re trying to figure out if it’s interesting or if it’s boring. It’s kind of like a TV show. You’re using the first couple episodes to decide if you want to continue watching the rest of the show. That’s the first couple of emails people send people will get from you.
If the first email you send your subscribers is boring, if it’s uninteresting, if it doesn’t apply to them… They’re out. And then you keep sending them more and more emails and it’s just like a TV show. After the first couple sucked you’re not going to watch it anymore. Same thing with your emails.
What do we need to do to get people to read your emails? Well, let’s go back to Netflix. Scrolling through, I noticed that Lord of the Rings is on Netflix right now. I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan. I’m going to watch Lord of the Rings tonight, not because of the length. Because I like it.
When I’m going through my email every morning, what I’m looking for is emails from people who I know send interesting emails. Even then, I’m reading the subject line to determine if this particular email is something I’m interested in.
I follow a guy named Neil Patel. He’s an SEO expert. I think he’s got some great stuff. I’m not interested in everything that he says because I already know some of it. Or maybe today I’m not thinking about that one thing that he’s emailing about. But I stay on his list because I know that he sends great content. I want to continually check in on the content that he’s putting out.
So how do we create emails that get read emails people look forward to seeing in their inbox?
How to write great emails
The first step to writing a great email is to put ourselves in our customer’s shoes.
Our customers are not on our email list to learn about us. They don’t care about us. They’re on our email list for themselves. To learn how they can do something better or different. To improve their lives.
They’re reading so they can do something in their own lives. Not to hear updates about your company. So the first thing I’d do is stop sending out updates about your company. Unless you’re sending those updates to your investors. If you’re not sending this email to your investors, if you’re sending them to your subscribers, they’re probably interested in improving their lives, learning something new, buying your product.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What is it that they want to learn or how can you help them improve their lives? Write about those things.
When we send the email, there’s a few parts of the email that we can use to engage our readers. The first part is the subject line.
Write a clear subject line
What do we want to do in the subject line? We want to tell people what they get out of this email.
What I see people do a lot of times is they try to trick people into reading the email. Like a bait and switch. They say things like, “Wouldn’t you be interested in…?” No, because I don’t know what I’m supposed to be interested in.
We don’t want to bait and switch. We’re not trying to be coy.
Tell people exactly what they’re going to get out of email.
Think about Netflix. We pick a show because we like the picture of the cover. Or we like the description. If those are not accurate representations of what’s going to happen in the show, we’re going to leave. Same thing with your emails.
The subject line of your email is like the cover or title of a show on Netflix. It’s where people see if they’re interested in it. They ask, “Do I want to read this particular email?” So we want to tell people what is in the email.
For example, let’s say you’re sending out a blog post on how to improve your life. Your post includes three ways that you’re going to teach people how to do that. The subject would be: “3 simple ways to improve your life.” It’s that easy.
I use an email platform called ConvertKit. One of my favorite features is that it lets you test out different subject lines. This is called A/B testing. You can test out two different subject lines to see what works better.
I do this with every single email I send because I’m always curious on how people will perceive and respond to these different subject lines.
If you’re not using an email platform, I highly recommend jumping into one like ConvertKit and then testing your subject lines. It’s an easy way to learn what kind of subject lines people are interested in.
Now, let’s move onto the email itself. There are four parts to an engaging email.
1. Start with the problem
How do we engage people in your email? The same way that great Netflix shows capture your attention: By telling an engaging story.
Storytellers have spent thousands of years creating and refining a story formula that engages and compels their audience. Movie makers know that if the story is good, more people buy. So they’ve been working through how to create good stories consistently. It’s not an accident.
Marvel’s a great example of this. Every marvel movie has gotten great reviews because they’re very intentional about how they tell their stories. Same with Pixar.
The reason why some movies don’t get good reviews is because the storytellers were lazy. We’re not going to be lazy.
In the same way that storytelling uses a framework, we’re going to use a framework to write great emails. Emails that get read and engaged with.
The first part of this framework is the problem.
Start with the problem that your customer is experiencing, that you’re going to help them solve later. We’re going to get to the solution in a second, but first we’re going to start off with the problem.
This provides context for everything else that you’re about to say. If I say, “New shoes are great!” You don’t yet know why it matters to you. But if, instead, I start off by saying, “Old shoes slow you down and cause foot pain.” Then you think, “Wow, okay. Yeah, absolutely.” Now you’re doing the math on how old your shoes are. You’re checking yourself to see if you’ve been moving slowly or if you have foot pain.
So by starting with the problem, we provide context for people. We also allude to where we’re going.
Length is less important here than the framework. So if you’re writing a short email, which you’re allowed to do, maybe the problem is one sentence: “Old shoes slow you down and cause pain all over your body.”
If you want to extend the email or write a little bit more descriptive or illustrative email, you can. Simply go into the problem a little bit more. You can say things like, “Old shoes can contribute to more than just foot pain and ankle pain, but they can also destroy your knees and harm your back.” And on and on. You can use this section to really illustrate how bad the problem can be.
Quick note: To add length, we’re not going to go out of the framework. We just extend each section of the framework.
So now that we’ve talked about the problem that we’re helping people solve, let’s talk about what comes next.
2. Move to the solution
We told people the problem we’re going to help them solve. We gave them context for why they should keep reading. Now we can move to the solution.
But remember, the problem is the hook. This is what’s going to get them to continue reading. We don’t want to skip to the solution until we have a clearly defined problem.
This is why a lot of emails don’t get read. When people jump into the solution without talking about the problem, without providing context. Think about the example I gave a minute ago. If I send an email and say, “New shoes are awesome. Look at ours!” It’s not engaging.
If I send an email that says, “Old shoes are causing you pain.” And then I follow that up with, “Our shoes help alleviate your pain.” Now the solution matters to you because of the problem.
The problem is what hooks me. If I have back pain and the pain that you’re talking about, I’m in. It gives us space to talk about the solution and your readers know why it matters to them.
In your email, your solution can be any number of things. It could be:
- A product
- A recipe
- A blog article
- A video
- Anything else that helps your readers improve their lives
When you sat down to write the email, what was your purpose? Chances are, that’s what fits in this solution space. You can put your full solution (like a recipe) directly in the email. Or you can talk about it in the email without putting the full details there, then link to it on your website.
I prefer to talk about what the solution is without putting the whole thing in the email. That lets me put a link in the email that takes people to the blog article or video that includes the full solution. I like this because I want my readers to get used to clicking links in my emails. Then, when I’m ready to sell something to them, they’re already used to clicking links and expecting valuable content.
But I’ve seen this done both ways. Let’s say you’re sending a recipe to your subscribers. You can put a full recipe in your email and also include a link that takes your readers to the recipe on your website. You’ll get less clicks, but if that’s not your goal it’s okay.
So after the problem and the solution, then we have the next part of the framework.
3. Include exciting results
Your product or solution should make people’s lives better. Now is the time to share how. We want to explicitly tell them how this solution makes their lives better.
So if your problem is, “Old shoes cause back pain or foot pain.” And your solution is your shoes, then your success would be, “Our shoes can eliminate your back and foot pain.”
If you want to send a short email, this can be two sentences:
Old shoes cause you pain in your back and your feet.
Try our new shoes, which have been proven to eliminate and reduce back and foot pain.
Notice how that covers all three parts of the framework. If you want a longer email, then extend each part of the framework. It could look like this:
Old shoes cause back and foot pain.
Even worse, they can destroy your posture and erode the health of your ankles and knees. This often causes unwanted back pain.
Our shoes are designed to eliminate this pain by aligning your feet and fixing your posture.
Which means those aches and pains go away. So you can play with your kids again. And get back to your active lifestyle
The framework is the same. The extra length provides space to get more detailed.
But we’re not done yet. There’s one more thing we need if we want our emails to get results.
4. Finish with a call to action
After you clearly describe the success, it’s time to tell your readers what you want them to do. Often this is just, “Click here to read more.”
This link sends them to your blog post, or your video, or your product page. Whatever your solution is, this link sends them there.
The full framework is:
- Call to action
This is the framework that I use and I regularly have 50% open rates on emails. I regularly have a as high as 20% click through rates. Not on every email. Sometimes I’m just sending out information like this and the click through rates can be a little lower. My average is 10%.
This is how you create emails they get engaged with.
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